Once upon a time in Nazi-occupied France, ‘The Basterds’, a bad ass group of Jewish soldiers led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Pitt), aim to spread fear through the Third Reich by killing as many Nazis as possible, doing so in the most brutal way, scalping their victims or carving swastika’s into the foreheads of those they let live.
Meanwhile a Jewish French girl, Shosanna (Laurent), having previously escaped the clutches of ‘The Jew Hunter’, Col. Hans Landa (Waltz), is running a movie theatre in Paris, and as fate would have it, she is given the chance to get her revenge on the Nazis and bring about the end of the war.
Always one to defy expectations, Tarantino delivers something very different from what the title and pitch would suggest. Indeed, while the name and plot suggest a loud, brash and brazen reboot of The Dirty Dozen, Inglourious Basterds refuses such definite categorisation. Though there are moments of explosive action, crude violence and tongue in cheek humour, much of the time Inglourious Basterds remains surprisingly restrained, incorporating long, dialogue-heavy scenes, much like Quentin's earlier work. Inglourious Basterds has more in common with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction than it does with Kill Bill and Death Proof, but while it was Tarantino’s sparkly dialogue of days past that helped put his name on the Hollywood map, here, in a WWII setting, there’s very little room for pop culture references and deliciously mundane chatter about fast food and Pam Grier.
Consequently, Inglorious Basterds’ dialogue isn’t always the most gripping, and while Tarantino still manages to throw in as many movie references as possible (there are film-related sub-plots which allow for plenty of chatter relating to Pabst, Riefenstahl and German cinema in general), the drawn-out conversations occasionally outstay their welcome, and as a result the film is a bit of a bore in places. However, the script isn’t nearly as tediously humdrum as the dreadful Death Proof, and certainly, many of the quieter, talky scenes are amongst the best in the film, thanks in part to some excellent performances from the likes of Christoph Waltz (chilling and amusing in equal measure) and Michael Fassbender.
The main problem with Inglourious Basterds is that it wants to be two different types of movie. One minute it’s delivering on its gung-ho, Dirty Dozen-like promise with extreme violence and a dark sense of humour, and the next it wants to be more of a grown up drama, slowly building tension with some smart dialogue and beautifully restrained performances. Both elements work well, but together things feel a little uneven, and Tarantino’s attempt to shoe-horn in some of his favourite trademarks (captions on screen, sporadic Sam Jackson narration, unnecessary slo-mo walking) doesn’t sit comfortably at all.
With a final payoff that fails to fully satisfy, Inglourious Basterds doesn’t quite live up to expectations, and it lacks the spark and that Tarantino cool factor that has made the majority of his work so endlessly watchable. The film ends with the line, “I think this might be my masterpiece”. If indeed this is a reference to his own movie, the director is sorely mistaken.
Overall Verdict: An often entertaining, well-written and remarkably performed WWII epic, but overall Tarantino’s latest doesn’t quite deliver the goods.
Reviewer: Lee Griffiths